Review: “Artemis” by Andy Weir

Review:

A review by Amanda.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Earth has colonized the moon, at long last. It runs much like a small town, under a system of domes and tunnels. The colony Artemis was established recently enough that the law and government lean toward the relaxed side. People move there in part to take advantage of some of the freedoms allowed, such as living tax-free. There are a few restrictions, such as the types of flammable items allowed, which is where Jazz Bashara comes in. The twenty-six-year-old works legally as a porter, picking items up from the station and delivering it to her clients. This also gives her a good cover for her not-so-legal side job as a smuggler. Born in Saudi Arabia, Jazz and her father have lived in Artemis for twenty years. This and her reputation as dependable and discreet have helped her land some wealthy clients. An incredible opportunity comes her way, a chance to make more money than she thought possible, and she can’t turn it down. There may be more to this job than meets the eye, and Jazz’s life may be in danger. She has to decide if the money is worth the risk.

This book was captivating from beginning to end. Jazz is an exceptional character. It was a refreshing surprise to read a science fiction novel narrated by a woman of color, especially one as dynamic as Jazz. She has complicated relationships with multiple supporting characters, and her history is revealed over time, partially through her own recollections and partly through an email exchange that progresses throughout the book. There are a variety of supporting characters, male and female, differing in race, sexuality, and socio-economic background. Several positions of power and leadership are filled with women. The diversity in this book was surprising and wonderful, particularly because the author didn’t make it into a big deal. It wasn’t the focus of the story, it just… was. Jazz has her flaws and her strengths. She’s incredibly smart, a bit flirtatious, and full of both confidence and bravado. She has integrity and depth. The plot flows nicely around the characters and keeps the reader entertained as they get to know the world of Artemis. Romance is not really featured in this book, except in Jazz’s personal history and the occasional flirtatious remark. The only improvement to be made would be in her personal relationships with women. Jazz’s closest friends are male, and the female supporting characters are on the sidelines for the majority of the book.

The colony is as much of a character as Jazz. Artemis has personality, strengths, and weaknesses, and the reader cares about what happens to her. The author does a great job of describing the science behind living on the moon, providing enough small details to seem real, without getting too technical. Readers do not need to have advanced degrees to enjoy this book.

This novel reads as a standalone but leaves room for more of Jazz’s story. I would definitely read more!

Andy Weir has also written The Martian, which was recently adapted into a blockbuster film starring Matt Damon.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “Bernie and the Putty (The Universe Builders #1)” by Steve LeBel

Review- Bernie and the Putty (The Universe Builders #1) by Steve LeBel

A review by Amanda.

I received this book for free from the author in exchange for a fair and objective review.

Bernie is a teenager who holds the world in his hands, literally. He belongs to a race of self-described gods who create universes from scratch. Their entire society revolves around building multitudes of worlds, just because they can. Children learn the basics of building in school, leading to various specialties and supporting careers; not everyone has what it takes to become a Builder. Bernie has run into a few obstacles along the way, including a bully, his parents’ divorce, a chaotic cloud that follows him everywhere, and an unwillingness to follow certain directions that he disagrees with. Nonetheless, he has been given an opportunity to show his potential employers what he can do, if he can overcome the new obstacles being thrown his way.

The concept of this book is unique and compelling. The details for the universe creation process are thorough and logical, with some whimsy thrown in here and there for good measure. The story has plenty of heart and humor to keep readers entertained and invested in the characters. The world-building and the overall plot are enough to keep one reading despite the novel’s pitfalls.

Bernie is a likable character, if not an exceptional one. He is a misunderstood geek, an outcast with few friends. Although he is smart and talented, still comes across as a bumbling, absent-minded type. Many of his successes are due to luck and accidents, or because someone else has helped him in some way. The supporting characters feel one-dimensional, especially the female characters. The two women who contribute most to the plot and dialogue only exist as love interests. They do not appear to have any agency beyond that. Other women only appear as needed to help Bernie. Even his mother exists only as part of an explanation Bernie’s circumstances. Women are described as “unfathomable” and naturally manipulative, especially when trying to attract a guy, which plays into misogynistic stereotypes about women.

The writing style seems geared towards a younger, middle-grade audience. There is a lot of exposition and not a lot of room for readers to come to conclusions on their own. Readers are privy to the inner thoughts of almost every character, which can be helpful but feels unnecessary at times. A couple of minor plot points build up and then fizzle out, although there are more books in the series so those could be addressed later.

Fans of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan may enjoy this book.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

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Review: “All About The D” by Lex Martin and Leslie McAdam

Review: “All About The D” by Lex Martin and Leslie McAdam

A review by Vanessa.

Mature content warning: This is an adult contemporary romance that contains explicit sexual content.

Evelyn Mills wants to make partner at her law firm. But to do that she needs to start bringing in some big business to impress the other partners. So when she gets a call from a smart and sexy-sounding businessman with a very unique problem she wonders if maybe she finally has the opportunity she’s been looking for. Except selling him as a client to the other partners might be difficult because he isn’t just a businessman. He happens to run a very successful blog which features artistic and captivating photos of his… well… let’s just say that specific body part isn’t what Evie was thinking when she was looking for a “big” client. Big he is, however, and gorgeous, and he also happens to be Josh Cartwright; youngest son of the most prominent family in Portland. But keeping his identity a secret is part of the job, and if he is a client she can look but not touch.

Josh just wants a trustworthy attorney to help him negotiate a contract with an adult toy company, and protect the secret of his successful blog. He certainly isn’t expecting to get the curvaceous, smart, and loyal Evie, and he doesn’t expect his instant attraction to her. As his attorney, he must keep his hands off no matter how funny and vivacious she is, or how she is everything he never knew he always wanted. But his brother has a political campaign and his mother is the matchmaker from hell so he can’t afford to be bad. His blog would get him into enough trouble if anyone found out. But even if she does inspire him to get it up for the photos he takes for his blog, he has to resist. If he can.

This book is the perfect mix of evocative, funny, genuine, and naughty that makes for an all around excellent read. The authors’ joint efforts here definitely pay off, and the result is a seamlessly written contemporary romance that is all the best aspects of truly entertaining, and heartfelt. The chapters are written from alternating perspectives of the two main characters, which makes for dynamic shifts in the storyline and a very engaging pace to the story. The characters are utterly lovable and totally real, if at times just a little bit predictable. But even given the easy to anticipate conflicts, the writing is just too good. The supporting characters are fleshed out and interesting and add great color to the story. And truly, there are scenes in the book that are just downright funny. It was a great read, and I would recommend it to any mature adult romance fans.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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Review: “The Dark Intercept” by Julia Keller

Review- The Dark Intercept by Julia Keller

A review by Amanda.

In the year 2294, on a glorious world called New Earth, crime is almost non-existent. Thanks to a highly advanced computer program, called the Intercept, crimes are stopped before they are committed. The Intercept monitors and records the emotional responses of every citizen on both New Earth and Old in order to keep the peace. Each citizen is implanted with a chip that allows the Intercept into their minds, giving up their right to keep their emotions private. When an emotional spike indicates a potential crime, the people whose job is to utilize the Intercept watch closely to determine if an intervention is necessary. The Intercept will then use an individual’s worst emotional memories against them, creating a horrible feedback loop that incapacitates the offender. Violet Crowley, daughter of New Earth’s Founding Father, is one of the employees of the Protocol Hall, where they watch for patterns that indicate potential criminal activity. It is her job to decide if an intervention is needed, a job she does not take lightly.

Violet understands the necessity of the Intercept and how much easier life is with it. Her curiosity about Old Earth and sympathies for the poor people who still live there pushes her to ask difficult questions, especially when her crush, a cop named Danny, makes unauthorized trips to Old Earth and won’t tell her why. Violet decides to investigate on her own, and the answers she finds only lead to more confusion. When threats arise against people she cares about and to the society her father painstakingly built, Violet takes matters into her own hands.

This story has some similarities to Minority Report, without the precognition aspect, and has a frightening take on futuristic class warfare. When New Earth was created, the deciding factor for who was allowed to come along and who had to stay behind was mostly wealth. Many doctors and scientists left Old Earth and the people who were forced to stay behind had very little resources. Many are dying of fevers and infections and crime is rampant there, even though many citizens have had chips implanted because they are rarely monitored by the Protocol Hall.

Violet is a lovely character if a bit naive in the beginning. She loves her friends and her family and is torn between following the rules and protecting her loved ones. She feels some ambivalence towards the Intercept, despite accepting its usefulness. The supporting characters are a little less developed than Violet, although still interesting. There are a couple of unexpected twists that added more substance to the plot, and the ending could work as a standalone or to continue in a series.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “The Dating Bender” by Christina Julian

A review by Amanda.

Samantha Serrano is a twentysomething divorcee whose life has gone off the rails. Raised in the Catholic faith by cruel and hypercritical parents, Sam has been so sheltered from the dating world that she leaps into marriage just to get out from under her parents’ thumbs. Unsurprisingly, her marriage loses its newlywed bliss almost immediately. Still, Sam tries to make it work for more than a year before asking for a divorce, much to her parents’ disappointment (despite the fact that they disapproved of the marriage in the first place). Now, on the advice of a friend and mentor, Sam agrees to give the dating world a spin. First, she has to overcome years of guilt and shame regarding sex, and then she has to figure out exactly what it is that she wants. This is the story of one woman’s journey to a better understanding of her needs and desires, complete with wacky mishaps and unexpected discoveries along the way.

Samantha is a contradiction of a character. On the one hand, her naivete about relationships occasionally borders on the ridiculous. She constantly references popular magazines in regards to fashion, makeup, and relationship advice. She takes the word of relative strangers at face value and seems to have some trouble maintaining female friendships with any depth. On the other hand, she also seems to have a great mind for business and achieves various successes in a male-dominated field. This aspect of her character is unfortunately glossed over and mostly serves as a vehicle for her sexual adventures. While the stories of her dating experiences are both entertaining and cringey, the lack of development in other areas of her life throughout the majority of the book gives the story a shallow feel. A little more backstory for Sam as well as the supporting characters would have gone a long way. A few extra details, such as how she met her ex-husband, anecdotes from her childhood (besides her parents’ cruelty), or about her friendships with women would have filled out the story quite nicely. As it is, Sam evokes rotating feelings of sympathy, frustration, and bemusement. Readers may find themselves rooting for her to gain independence and maturity, rather than hoping that she finds true love and a fairy tale happy ending.

As Sam works through her Catholic guilt and searches for some new sexual experiences, she has her ups and downs. She makes mistakes and learns from them, has some great sex, and makes a fool of herself on multiple occasions. There is nothing shameful about women’s sexual desires and more stories about women gaining and enjoying sexual freedom are necessary, and appreciated. The sex scenes are semi-graphic.

This book is a quick and casual read for those in need of a romance with an awkwardly funny protagonist.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

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Review: “Bring Her Home” by David Bell

Review: "Bring Her Home" by David Bell

A review by Amanda.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Tragedy has struck the small town of Jakesville. Fifteen-year-old Summer and her best friend Haley, who has been missing for two days, were found in a local park. Both girls had been severely beaten beyond recognition and only Summer is still clinging to life. Summer’s mother died a year and a half before and her father, Bill, has been struggling to raise his only child on his own. Relief that she has been found alive is mixed with anger at whoever has done this horrible crime, and guilt over mistakes he has made as a parent. The investigation into the girls’ disappearance has uncovered some surprising and troubling details about things that shake Bill to his core, and lead to more questions than answers.

Bill Price appears to be an average middle-aged man who has been thrown into some extraordinary and tragic circumstances. He is overcome with grief, shock, and occasional bouts of rage, and has some secrets of his own that he’d prefer to keep buried. His sister Paige is his only real confidante as he tries to find the truth about what happened to Summer on his own. The beleaguered lead detective, Detective Hawkins, has his work cut out for him with Bill’s attempts to find the person responsible alternately hindering and helping the investigation.

The story is told exclusively from Bill’s perspective, so readers only know what he knows as the investigation unfolds. Bill is not the most sympathetic of characters; at times he is downright unlikeable in spite of the circumstances. Readers will be drawn in through the mystery and the unexpected twists and supporting characters will keep them engaged. Getting to know Summer, Paige, and Bill’s late wife Julia, albeit through Bill’s eyes, gives the book depth and warmth and gives readers characters to connect with and root for. Aside from the unlikeability of the main character, the story is well written and intriguing. The unpredictable plot twists are a pleasant surprise amidst the oversaturated mystery genre. Violence and strong allusions to sexual assault are mentioned but not graphically described.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “The Smoke Thief” by Shana Abé

Review: “The Smoke Thief” by Shana Abé

A review by Vanessa.

This book was one from my personal library of favorites purchased some time ago. Always nice to go back and read a favorite.

Rue is a very good thief. She moves with impunity throughout 18th century London, because of course, no one would suspect a woman of being able to pull off such daring jewel heists as have been attributed to the infamous “Smoke Thief.” What the world at large does not know about the thief or the lady, is that she is something even more than anyone could suspect… she is drakon. They are a race unto themselves, hiding in the world of man as aristocracy, able to Turn to a form of smoke and mist, and then to their true dragon form at will. But Rue was not born into the welcoming embrace of the full-blooded family. She was born Clarissa Rue Hawthorne, a dark haired half-blood outsider within the world of her fair-haired and inhumanly beautiful tribe, including the dashingly handsome young heir. On the morning of her 17th birthday, Rue took her own fate into her hands and faked her death so that she could leave her tribe behind and make her own life.

Christoff, the Marquess of Langford, is the Alpha. He was a bored young rake, but now he is a blindingly handsome and commanding man with his father’s title; and a real problem on his hands. The Smoke Thief is gadding about London, presenting a threat of exposure leaving stories about a thief who can transform to smoke. So he lures the thief out with a display of the Langford diamond and to his surprise he finds… Rue. A female. One who can Turn, as no other female has been able to for the last four generations. Her ability makes her the female Alpha, and by the laws of their tribe they are mates, but it’s her strength and beauty that make Kit want her for his own; before someone else can claim her. Rue doesn’t want a forced marriage of obligation based on tribe law. The Langford diamond has been taken by someone, and she knows who, so she works a plan to stay free of Lord Langford in exchange for helping to find it. But Kit has a plan of his own, and he is not above seducing Rue into his way of thinking. Can the famed Smoke Thief escape with her heart?

This book and series are one of my favorites, and I’m quite happy to have a reason to re-read. Not only because the storyline is fantastic, and the world building is impressive, but Shana Abé’s writing is just beautiful as well. Even the prologue is poetically and starkly beautiful, right from the beginning.  Her word choice and the flow of her prose is just masterful, and a great pleasure to read. Add to that her strength in creating dramatic, multi-faceted characters and you will see why I couldn’t put the book down. This series is an interesting mix of historical, and fantastical, where a race of dragons live their lives in 18th century London. The ancient history of their people comes into play as well within this book and throughout the series, and it never disappoints. Abé is amazing at weaving together all the best aspects of a great historical romantic fiction with the specific fascination that fantastic, magical, and legendary creatures bring to any story. I would highly recommend this book and the entire series to any readers. The romance is the main focus of the stories, but it is one among many great aspects, and it is utterly seductive in all the best ways. Worth the read, and the re-read.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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